Lady and Gentleman on Horseback by Aelbert Cuyp

Lady and Gentleman on Horseback by Aelbert Cuyp (c.1655)

Over time I suppose one gets to like different artists and different paintings and one’s favourites constantly change.  For me however,  I have always loved the work of Aelbert Cuyp and along with Pieter Bruegel the Elder, I would have him constantly in my top five favourite artists.  I love his landscapes (see March 12th) and his riverscapes (see Feb 8th) but for My Daily Art Display today I have chosen one of his portraits, entitled Lady and Gentleman on Horseback which he painted around 1655.

Aelbert Jacobsz Cuyp was born in Dordrecht in 1620. His father was Jacob Gerritsz Cuyp, a successful portrait painter in the city and his mother was Aertken Cornelisdr van Cooten.  Aelbert was unquestionably raised up in an artistic environment with his grandfather Gerrit Cuyp being an eminent glass painter and his uncle’s step brother Benjamin Gerritsz Cuyp was a well known painter of religious, peasants and tavern scenes.  It was his father who gave Aelbert his earliest artistic tuition.  Although Dordrecht was not known for being an important artistic centre, it was a wealthy city and proud of being the oldest city and principal city of Holland and of great mercantile importance.     Aelbert used to assist his father in his studio by supplying landscape backgrounds for portrait commissions.  It is uncertain whether Cuyp had ever been an apprentice of a landscape painter, but he soon abandoned his father’s style and subject matter and turned almost exclusively to landscapes and riverscapes.  He would only occasionally paint portraits in his mature period.

Aelbert, despite branching off on his own as a painter, continued to assist his father right up to the time of his father’s death in 1652.  It is thought that the landscape works of Jan van Goyen, which were known to Cuyp, may have been instrumental in his artistic style as were the works of the Utrecht painter Jan Both.  Cuyp also followed the example of Jan van Goyen in the way he travelled throughout Holland sketching and gaining inspiration for future works.

In 1658, aged thirty eight, he married Cornelia Bosman, a wealthy widow of Johan van de Corput, a naval officer and member of an important Dordrecht family.  Cornelia had three children from her previous marriage.  Following his marriage, Cuyp appears to have painted less frequently, and stopped painting altogether years before his death due to his civic and religious responsibilities he had assumed after his marriage.  He was very wealthy and there were no financial pressures on him to produce paintings for sale.    He was listed in the register of the dead on 7 November 1691, and buried in the Augustinian Church at Dordrecht.

Today’s work of art, Lady and Gentleman on Horseback, highlights the popularity of the Dutch patrician pastime of hunting in the second half of the seventeenth century and many similar paintings exist.  This is a large oil on canvas work measuring 123cms x 172cms and depicts a man and a woman, probably husband and wife, on horseback setting off for the hunt.   There have been many names put forward as to the identity of the sitters, the most popular being that the man is Adriaen Stevensz Snouck and the lady his wife, Erkenraad Berk.  The lady’s father, Matthijs, was an important patron of Aelbert Cuyp, which may account for the prominence in the painting of his daughter in her gorgeous blue dress, who we see sitting resplendently on the back of a white horse with its brilliant red and gold saddlecloth.   The couple had just married and it could well be that Cuyp was commissioned to paint this to commemorate the happy event.

The landscape in the background is filled with light, typical of the popular Italianate style of the time.  We see a building in the background which is more than likely a fanciful evocation of an ancient fortified chateau which Cuyp may have seen on his travels.   The two hunters have their dogs with them.  There are two types of dog on this hunt, the turfters which were used to track and follow the scent of deer and greyhounds, which we see in the middle-ground of the painting, being controlled by an attendant and which run after the deer and bring them to bay.

X-Ray Image of painting

When this painting was x-rayed there were some interesting differences to the finished article.  The man originally wore a hat and his hair was much shorter and was seen lying on his shoulders.  His attire was different.  He had originally been painted in a military tunic and cape which were adorned with braids and buttons that in all likelihood were golden in colour.  It was also thought that the overall colour of the man’s clothing was a brilliant red rather than drab brown we see in today’s painting.   If we look at the woman we see that originally she wore a hat which was of a different shape to the one she is wearing now and originally the hat had feathers at the back of it.  Her dress was more loosely fitting and cascaded down the right flank of her horse.  Such changes to the painting must mean that the patrons were dissatisfied with the original composition and the fact that there was more going on in the original painting probably was viewed as being too distracting from the formal character of the double portrait and thus had to be revised.